After more than 40 years this relatively minor story seems to roll back and forth in my mind. Whenever, I think of writing any of these events down, this story comes right up to the top. I’m really not sure why. Maybe you will know.
We lived in very large two story barracks. We were in Monterey, or so I thought. Today, it would be Seaside, California. I was 23 years old and a relatively old person to be drafted. It was 1966. My platoon slept on bunk beds in one single room. We had a foot locker and a locker for things on hangers. We had no personal possessions. Those items had all been sent home. We were forbidden to even save letters.
I was not having fun.
The story is about our last days. Somehow, I had survived basic training. As a very unfit 23 year old who had been at a desk job when drafted, I was limping about on what I later learned was a stress fracture of my leg. In order to leave to go to our next duty assignment, we had to turn in our weapons. This was, I later learned, part of the great theater that was basic training.
Turning in your weapon meant cleaning it to an inspector’s satisfaction.
In the morning, long tables were set up with white sheets on each table. Inspectors (our drill instructors) sat at the tables while we were instructed to clean our rifles. We all disassembled the weapon and spread them out in the grass on our own bed sheets. We then cleaned and polished parts of the weapon. When we thought it was ready, we would take all the parts in a pillow case to the inspector. He would look at it and then reject it.
No matter how often you went up, no matter how you cleaned the metal, it would be rejected.
Around Noon, my brain, which had been on temporary hold for about 9 weeks began to function. I realized that the ritual involved the rejection. I took my pillow case of parts and went into the barracks and waited. I think I may have even dared to relax a bit. As the sun began to set, I observed everyone getting approval. I went back outside, got in line and low and behold my rifle was clean.
That wasn’t my only lesson that day. As I tried to put my weapon back together, a tiny spring in a something called the trigger housing sprang away from me into the grass. It was forever lost. The sun was setting very fast and this had all the elements of a ghastly moment. If I did not take the rifle, intact, to the armory, I could not even imagine the screaming that would occur, no less the punishment. So again, my brain worked. I assembled the rifle without the missing spring. Everything looked correct. I took it down the stairs where the weapons were stored. I turned in the rifle and went back to the barracks.
Today, more than 40 years later, I still think about that day. I’ve told the story over and over in my mind.
I learned to watch the system, play the game and lie.